What can the world learn from different perspectives on the Balkan Wars?
Yugoslavia, the Union of Southern Slavs, was designed to bring together a diverse mix of identities, histories, and religions. That was until war erupted in the 1990’s, and Yugoslavia began to break apart. In its place, Europe gained six new countries, and a region with a complicated history became even more complicated.
When we travel through the countries of the former Yugoslavia, we are confronted with some incredible stories, from the times when the country was a global leader to horror stories of war. As we hear and collect these different perspectives though, it is striking how the narratives and perspectives before, during, and after the war vary. Ideas which brought people together at one time have pushed them apart at others.
Today with changing technology and access to information, the ability to grapple with uncertain truth and perspectives is more important than ever. As the world continues to reconcile with questions of nationalism and identity, the Balkans region, and former Yugoslavia specifically, provide an important context for understanding how we connect with history, build relations across borders, and tell our own stories.
On this program we will explore some of the nations of the former Yugoslavia and listen to the different voices, stories, and perspectives across the region. We will confront questions about continued peace in the region while we also think critically about lessons the world can learn about history, journalism, narrative, in the region and back at home.
Zagreb and Vukovar, Croatia
We will explore the Croatian capital and get a first introduction to the history and the breakup of Yugoslavia with local experts. We will visit the key sites and hear the Croatian perspective of the “Homeland War” as we explore the upper and lower sections of the city and meet with locals.
As we leave Zagreb we can stop at the Jasenovac Concentration Camp site and the city of Vukovar on the Danube just across the border from Serbia. This city was the site of the most intense fighting in Croatia during the 90’s.
We will cross the Danube and enter Serbia, the former capital of Yugoslavia and the current capital of the Republic of Serbia. Here we will trace the importance of this city, the largest in the region as we visit the historical landmarks and incredible socialist architecture from the time of Yugoslavia. We will visit the memorial site of Tito and take a boat trip along the waterways of the city.
In Belgrade we will also take time to meet with local Serbs who have a different perspective on the war, since very little fighting took place in the country. We will also learn about the NATO bombings in the city and the story of Kosovo as we visit some of the structures that have been left as a reminder of the recent history.
Sarajevo and Srebrenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina
We will continue South to Bosnia and Herzegovina with a stop in Srebrenica, the site of the largest mass murder in Bosnia during the war. We will have lunch with a family and absorb the important history and political fallout of this site before we make our way to Sarajevo.
We will spend a few days in Sarajevo to understand the siege and the fighting that took place in and around the city. We will meet with survivors and veterans of the war, visit the supply tunnel under the airport, and take in the city from the overlook at the site of the 1984 Winter Olympic bobsled track.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
In Mostar we will learn about the divided city that represents some of the harshest battles and the complex perspective of the war. Here Croatians and Bosnian Muslims fought on two sides of the city. The different stories and impacts of the war still shape the community today and the perspectives we will encounter. Today the rebuilt bridge symbolizes the efforts to build peace and quite literally create a bridge between the two sides.
On our way to Mostar, we can stop at key sites from Bosnian and Yugoslav history, such as the infamous Bunker Tito built to hide from the Soviet Union (Now a modern art exhibit deep in the mountains) and smaller villages with deep Ottoman roots.
Dubrovnik and Korcula, Croatia
We will return to Croatia with a possible stop on the incredible island of Korcula where we have a deep connection. Here the group will have time to process everything we have learned and enjoy the spectacular coastline of the region. After the intense trip through the Balkans, the perspective on the island will balance its intense beauty with an understanding of how diverse and amazing Yugoslavia was and the culture and times it represented.
We will finally end our travels in the walled city of Dubrovnik. We will walk the walls of the old city and travel by cable car to the mountain overlook and the museum about the war and attacks on the city. We will end our program on the harbor under the stars as we reflect on our experience in the region.
Like all Atlas Workshops programs, every trip is different, and this program is perfect for customization. This program is an incredible introduction to the history and political narratives in the region, but it does involve a lot of stops. We could of course adapt the program to remove or add cities. For example, we have run a similar version of the program without the stop in Serbia, or could even just focus on one or two cities in the region. We could also consider adding other countries, such as Montenegro, or even Kosovo depending on the issues we most want to dive into.
We could adapt this program to be more history focused or to dig into the concept of hate speech, journalism, or historical narrative as a research or design project. We could explore other ideas such as peace-building, the Dayton Accords, or international involvement along a similar itinerary.
A university field course could look similar or could also include a bit more time anchored in any one city for classroom time, independent exploration, or independent research.
If you have different interests check out some of our other programs in the Balkans or get in touch about customizing your own program. We have also looked at the concept of division and peace in places like Northern Ireland, Sweden, and Greece.